SCHOOL SPIRITS are high at Robert Moton Elementary School now that parents, pupils and teachers have mingled at the annual Back to School picnic.
For the second year in a row, the school community rallied behind a bring-your-own-side dish and your good-mood meal. Principal Rebecca Erdeljac and Assistant Principal Rae Leeds grilled hot dogs and chatted with families they have known for a long time, as well as families new to the school.
Businesses pitched in with more than $400 and almost 40 prizes, which were distributed throughout the two-hour event.
Pupils picked up blue-and-white helium balloons at the PTO table, while parents learned more about the organization and volunteered their time.
Rick Haines, whose son, Alex, is in kindergarten at Robert Moton, rolled up his snowball stand and pumped out free snowballs all evening. The top flavors: skylight and cherry.
"This is awesome," said Ryan McGrath, whose siblings, Tara and Blaine, are in first and third grade. "The weather is cool; there's music and snowballs."
Shania Twain's "You Don't Impress Me Much" and other hot tunes filled the air, compliments of disc jockey Danny Carlisle and general manager Jeff Laird from radio station WGRX, who brought in a sound system and the station's mammoth inflatable frog.
"About 700 people came out last year, and this picnic is just as popular this year," said Frank Fiore, crisis intervention specialist for the school. "We had so many teachers sign up to help out."
Fiore and his wife, Vonnie, coordinated the picnic last year and this year.
They worked closely with PTO President Wendy Race. All were calling local radio stations as early as Monday hoping to hear a forecast for perfect weather.
And perfect weather they had. Cool enough for blankets, strollers and beach chairs on the lawn, and just the right temperature for parents Jim Olsen and Frank Tontala to put on the radio station's green frog costume and mingle incognito.
"This gives everyone a chance to get to know each other and get comfortable before the school year really takes off," said Race. "Last year went so well, we knew this would become a tradition."
Melt to mellow music
Western Maryland College professor Michael Connell has recorded the smooth sounds of his original jazz music on his first compact disc, "Country Aire."
In fewer than seven days, he recorded 10 songs in his garage studio. Eight are original compositions that offer what Connell calls "a cool jazz piano sound with soft percussion and warm bass."
Pop in this CD, and you'll be in the mood for a candlelight dinner or quiet meditation.
The recording chronicles Connell's love for his family in songs like "Evan's Song" and "Ally's Snowdance." His one-man recording company, based in his Lutherville studio, is called AL&EV;, after his children Allyson, 8, and Evan, 5.
He dedicates the song "April" to his wife, Tracy, who inspired him to follow his dream of making a recording and marketing it. "Big Lake" was dedicated to the "free sprit and memory" of Connell's brother, Frank, a graduate of Western Maryland College who died at 36.
"Frank was into nature, and he used to mountain climb in California," said Connell. "Big Lake was his favorite place to go. When I wrote the piece, I wanted it to capture what that place would be like."
"Big Lake" has a joyful, loving life rhythm that evokes images of rippling water and rustling leaves.
Connell has been teaching jazz piano at Western Maryland for eight years. He wrote his first piano piece at age 12. It has been rescored and titled "Kite Flying," and many of his students learn it in his course.
"Country Aire" is available at Locust Books, Coffey Music and the bookstore at Western Maryland College for $10.
Lisa Breslin's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.
Pub Date: 9/07/99